Deference over scrutiny? Media and Monarchy in the United Kingdom
2018 has been a big year in a momentous decade for the British royal family. The wedding in May between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was the latest in a string of celebrations that included Prince William's wedding to Kate Middleton in 2011, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee the following year, and three royal births. Together, these events have helped Buckingham Palace revolutionise its image for the 21st century.
But how far have Britain's media and their coverage of such spectacles facilitated the royal rebrand? While the House of Windsor represents little more than a celebrity fairy tale for most international journalists, for Britain's fourth estate, the monarchy is a very real public institution with continuing political privileges. In short, one worthy of scrutiny. Yet, scrutiny isn't a term commonly associated with royal reporting in Britain.
Speaking ab out this year's royal wedding with The Listening Post's Daniel Turi, Dawn Foster, a columnist for The Guardian newspaper, said: "We had a lot of the very traditional style coverage which is extraordinarily deferential, and you don't get questions asked in a way that you do with other events. You don't get people querying exactly how much the wedding cost and why we're still funding it."
There is an issue here about taking members of the royal family, holding them directly to account as you might with a politician or a businessperson ...Tradition, protocol, our DNA with the royal family determines that by and large, we don't. We're a timid feeble lot, no doubt about that. We ought to be bolder.
Tim Ewart, former royal editor, ITV
While the royal family says it paid for the private aspects of the wedding, it isn't clear whether any of the funds were drawn from the annual Sovereign Grant they receive from the government. The cost of security, however, estimated at $30-40m, was borne by taxpayers. Discussions of such topics were conspicuous in their absence among the rolling hours of coverage.
While it's true that the British monarchy has lost many of its formal powers over the centuries, the Sovereign and the heir to the throne still inherit certain unique, not to mention unusual, privileges.
For instance, the Queen and Prince Charles receive all memoranda from the Cabinet, among them policy proposals and classified material.
They also retain the right to veto new laws that affect them.
Far from a redundant relic, this veto has been exercised on several occasions: notably when, in 1999, the Queen blocked a private member's bill proposing that another royal privilege, the right to authorise military action, be transferred to parliament.
This power to veto bills only came to light th anks to a freedom of information request. However, in 2010 the government amended the Freedom of Information Act to include an absolute exemption for the monarch and the heir to the throne. And, with considerable barriers to public interest reporting on the monarchy, the kind of reporting that audiences tend to get focuses on the fluffier side of royalty.
It's a side Katie Nicholl, in her role as Royal Correspondent for the Mail on Sunday, is familiar with: "I think probably we can get a little preoccupied with the flippant. For example, if you're on a royal engagement - it may well be a visit to the teenage cancer trust or an AIDS-related charity for Prince Harry's work - and you're often finding that your top line in the story is, wow, Meghan's stepped out in bespoke Givenchy again."
The tendency to deference over scrutiny in much British reporting on the royal family likely suits the Palace as it consolidates its rejuvenated public image . But it's one that sits uneasily for many, not least Tim Ewart.
"There is an issue here about taking members of the royal family, holding them directly to account as you might with a politician or a businessperson or whatever. Should I be shouting a question? Of course, as a journalist, the answer is yes I should. Tradition, protocol, our DNA with the royal family determines that by and large, we don't. We're a timid feeble lot, no doubt about that. We ought to be bolder."
Tim Ewart - former royal editor, ITV
Katie Nicholl - royal correspondent, Mail on Sunday; author, Harry: Life, Loss and Love
Dawn Foster - columnist, The Guardian
Laura Clancy - lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies, Lancaster University
Source: Al Jazeera NewsSource: Google News United Kingdom | Netizen 24 United Kingdom